A report by the Assistant Director -Strategic Growth and Development
Councillor Brewis Chairman of the Scrutiny Panel presented the report supported by the Assistant Director - Strategic Growth and Development.
A joint Scrutiny Task & Finish Panel had been established between the three authorities to undertake a review of public transport provision in Boston, South Holland, and East Lindsey. The first topic identified had been to focus on Public Transport.
Whilst public transport was not a subject matter that district authorities had any statutory functions for, it was a public service function which acted as a key determinant of outcomes in areas where the three district councils (and its wider partnership) have a direct role to play in influencing change, including;
· Economic growth, access to employment and skills development
· Supporting the social mobility and increasing life opportunities for residents
· Addressing health inequalities
· Access to high streets and town centres, including support for the night-time economy
· Carbon reduction, sustainability, and air quality management
· Encouraging and supporting the visitor economy
However, the wider matter of rural mobility and alternative forms of transportation beyond the car is an area where the SELCP could bring direct intervention and influence.
The group identified the following key areas for scrutiny;
· Developing a more detailed understanding of the policies and approaches that govern the delivery of public transport at a national, regional, and local level
· Gathering qualitative and quantitative evidence concerning the current provision of public transport across the SELCP area
· Understanding the relationships between existing public transport provision and wider agenda of importance to the SELCP area
· Understanding the matter of Public Transport from the perspectives of both operators and commissioners
· Exploring innovation and best practice around public transport, rural mobility and alternative solutions to personal and shared transportation that could inform future strategy for the SELCP area
Wide ranging interviews were held with 13 witnesses from across 12 different organisations and agencies. Written evidence had also been provided by both Suffolk County Council, and Babergh and Mid Suffolk Council. Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) had also been invited to attend a meeting of the committeein their capacity as the Local Transport Authority but had declined any direct involvement with the group, They had however agreed to provide information in writing to the group, and had offered members of the panel the opportunity to attend the county’s Highways and Transport Scrutiny Committee.
Committee were referred to Appendix A of the report which provided a detailed account of the review together with the recommendations identified.
In conclusion Councillor Brewis stated that it had been an honour to Chair the review over nearly ten months.
The Assistant Director – Strategic Growth and Development address the meeting at this point and advised that the logic used in approaching the review had been to look at what areas the Councils’ could potentially make a change in, being mindful that they had no direct control on Public Transport.
The recommendations identified for consideration were in two principle areas, the first in how the partnership could seek to influence others people in that area and how they might better focus their influence within our areas and the secondly should the Councils be minded, to work alongside other District Councils in addressing the issues of real mobility.
Committee deliberation followed which included:
Concerns were noted at the lack of transport for the residents on the fringe of Boston, with local bus services only covering the area of the town centre or serving the villages. Further concern noted the lack of any service to Marsh Lane Industrial Estate which was a key employer for the borough, but with no bus service for the employees.
The Assistant Director - Strategic Growth and Development noted that it was an opportune time to better coordinate with employers in how they get their employees to work, with the possibility of a potential commercial opportunity for anyone wishes to run a mini-bus and provide a service. Various charitable organisation were already running successful similar services elsewhere.
Referencing the current operators grant of 15p per mile a member questioned how this could be increased in such a rural area as it seemed very unfair and was advised that the Bus Services Operators Grant (BSOG) had been based on London routes when agreed, which were predominantly short distance routes and lobbying of BSOG by the Partnership and other rural authorities was required to get a fairer playing field with the grant to increase it substantially for the rural services.
Concern was also noted at the reduction in voluntary car schemes with ageing drivers and new recruitment proving difficult due to the cost of fuel and increase in pension age, leading to people working longer.
Addressing the impact on the local economy of not have regular services from the villages into the town, a member noted that impact on both local business and also on residents social lives where their only form of transport was to use the existing service but being restricted to one service a day. Further comment also noted the impact on town centre business with no Sunday service for staff.
The Portfolio Holder addressed the meeting and advised that the logistics department as Boston College were training drivers to meet the ongoing shortage.
Referencing the large employers who worked 24/ 7 with shift patterns a member noted that even extending the service from 7am to pm would not have any impact on transporting their employees with another member noted concern at the regular overcrowding he observed of mini-buses and cars for workers going to the pack houses.
Addressing the existing Into Town bus service a member voiced strong concerns at the impact it had in respect of damaging the paved road where the vehicles parked up in Wide Bargate which was sinking in parts, and further stated that the existing routes needed to be re-routed out of Narrow Bargate where they caused significant pollution being fuelled by diesel and also caused safety issues for residents in what should be a pedestrianised area. The member sought an immediate review of the service due to the ongoing issues.
Congratulating Councillor Brewis on the review a member referenced the lack of input from LCC and stated that until such a when a devolution deal was agreed, they would not be interested. He further advised that during his time as a Councillor he had been involved in setting up the Call Connect service through Spilsby during which time the Parish Councils’ had contributed to the funding of the service but had not been able to sustain the funding.
Councillor Brewis advised that he had written to both the Leader of the Council and the respective Portfolio Holder and had received a fairly optimistic reply.
The Chairman thanked Councillor Brewis for the presentation.